September 07, 2010

Same Clowns, Different Circus

First I need to say that I don't know a thing about the break-up of Carmichael Lynch and Harley-Davidson.

Next, I'm going to pretend that I do.

Carmichael Lynch resigned the Harley-Davidson account last week. They had done terrific work for them for decades.

While the client didn't say, "the world is changing and these guys can't give us anything new," and the agency didn't come out and say, "these knuckleheads don't even understand their own brand," my guess would be that these were the issues behind the break-up.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like there was arm-wrestling over the brand personality. It sounds like Carmichael was fighting against diluting the Harley brand by trying to appeal to a "broader audience." In other words, the usual stupidity of trying to be everything to everyone. Or, more accurately, nothing to no one.

The problem an agency faces when trying to protect a brand from itself is that it is labeled "incapable of coming up with something new and fresh."

The more the agency tries to protect the client from tin-eared yahoos who are unwittingly determined to undermine the brand, the more they are stuck with this tag. This is particularly true when sales are lousy and advertising becomes the scapegoat.

If, as I suspect, Harley tries to "broaden its appeal," what we will see is an instant replay of Saturn.

An agency invents a brand. It protects and nurtures the brand. There is a bump in the road. The client panics. A new agency is brought in. The brand can't figure out who it is anymore. A funeral is held.

In this case, however, the agency built such a strong brand, even tin-eared yahoos probably can't kill it.

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